Ryan Leahy is fearless. He'd like to think so, at least.
The kids who played football, baseball and basketball with him at St. John's Prep, the kids who opposed him in high school, his peers at Boston College, where he was the baseball captain - they'd all agree.
He's a pepperpot, for sure. The California Angels' minor league utility infielder from Salem may have invented trash talking. Cocky, yes. A highly-motivated individual, definitely. Very much a winner.
His junior year at BC, he homered over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in the Beanport Tournament and is still talking about it.
"It may have looked like it just made it, but that ball was three rows deep," the 25-year-older said in mock exaggeration.
His positive attitude is the biggest part of his sports personality. That trait was no different yesterday as Leahy discussed his latest issue: thyroid cancer.
He has a large cyst on the left side of his neck and a decent-sized cyst inside the thyroid, a few on top, and possibly others. Leahy said he may have as many as six small cysts in the thyroid area.
Know what Leahy said after getting word from Dr. Stephanie Lee of the New England Medical Center after testing positive? Some would have got emotional or suffered severe depression. But not Ryan Leahy.
"I wanted to find out from somebody all along what it was, so I could take care of it and get back on the field, and do the things I normally do," Leahy said. "I'm supposed to report to spring training March 9."
What if cancer jeopardizes or delays his baseball career?
"I'm not nervous that this, or any injury, could put an end to my baseball career," said Leahy, who will head for the operating room soon. He has been told there's a 97-percent chance he'll be cured. "That's my way of thinking."
Michael Carr, a friend of Leahy's from Salem, was with him on South Beach in Miami, getting ready for Thanksgiving brunch. They were going to watch the BC/Miami football game when Carr noticed a lump on Leahy's neck.
"I said, 'What are you talking about?'" Leahy said. "I saw a BC doctor that night, and he said to get it checked. I didn't feel comfortable with the doctor in Tampa doing surgery in case I got laid up, and my parents felt it would be best if I went home. I had a biopsy up here and it was inconclusive. Like it was nothing to worry about."
One of his BC coaches, Steve Englert, referred Leahy to Dr. Gregory Grillone at Boston Medical Center, who ordered an MRI that showed the cyst. Englert then referred him to Dr. Lee, an endocrinologist, who spelled it all out after an ultrasound and biopsy tested positive.
"My family's a lot more upset than I am," Leahy said. "Any time you hear the word cancer, everybody gets worried. I have a wonderful family and enough good friends to get me through this. I don't have a single worry that this won't come out well.
"Everybody - family and relatives - shows how much they love you when something like this occurs, but they don't have to do anything extra. I' I've known their love all my life."
His family has no history of cancer, he said.
He's seen several doctors and had each one of them send a medical report to Bruce Hiness, the Angels' the minor league field coordinator.
"I have every support from him. They'll take me be back as soon I can get there," Leahy said.
A thorasic surgeon will be present in OR in the event the cysts have moved to the chest area, Leahy said. "I guess my modeling career is over," he joked.
His attitude is a product of the "amazing coaches" he's had; people who have given him the strength that made him believe he could do anything. It started with Sal Orlando's Tigers in Salem Little League, grew with Pat Yanchus at St. John's Prep and his college coaches.
The only physical setback Leahy had prior to the cancer diagnosis is an appendicitis attack a day before his 2003 baseball season opened at BC. He missed the whole schedule.
Leahy, who continues to work out at The Hit Zone in Swampscott, suffered a finger dislocation his senior year at The Heights and never missed a game.
"I may need a radioactive pill after the surgery; that's all," he said. "I was told I won't need chemotherapy. There are people worse off than me, that's for sure. There's no reason I shouldn't feel optimistic. Maybe I'm making it less serious than it is, and maybe this is just the way I deal with things."
Bill Kipouras is a staff writer at The Salem News. He can be reached at 978-338-2615 or by e-mail: email@example.com.